Sound judg­ment

Truro Daily News - - OPINION -

Some­times, it can be a pleasure to read a judge’s ver­dict. Some­times, it’s clear, com­mon sense.

So we’ve in­cluded an ex­cerpt from Judge Wayne Gor­man’s re­cent de­ci­sion in a dou­ble drunk-driv­ing case in Cor­ner Brook, N.L. in this edi­to­rial, a case where the ac­cused claimed her rights un­der the Cana­dian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms had been in­fringed.

But first, a bit of back­ground: Const. Ge­of­frey Hef­fer­nan re­ceived a re­port that an im­paired driver might be mak­ing her way through Cor­ner Brook in a grey Ford Fo­cus. He pulled over a ve­hi­cle match­ing that de­scrip­tion and took Amanda Blackmore to the sta­tion, where she failed the breathal­yser. When she was re­leased, she told Hef­fer­nan she was headed for the nearby town of Deer Lake. He of­fered to call a cab for her, but she de­clined.

Just 30 min­utes later, a dif­fer­ent po­lice of­fi­cer, pa­trolling the area where Blackmore’s locked car had been left, found Blackmore driv­ing again. She failed the breathal­yser again.

When the case came to court, Blackmore ar­gued her Char­ter rights had been in­fringed be­cause Hef­fer­nan didn’t have a rea­son to pull her over in the first place. Her lawyer ar­gued that the traf­fic stop was an ar­bi­trary de­ten­tion, and that her Char­ter rights were vi­o­lated be­cause there were not rea­son­able grounds to make a breathal­yser de­mand. Those are among the reg­u­lar chal­lenges made in drunk-driv­ing cases – and reg­u­larly, right across the coun­try, they wind up hav­ing charges halted.

Judge Gor­man can be an out­spo­ken judge. He dis­missed the Char­ter chal­lenge, say­ing, “In as­sess­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer’s ac­tions in a con­sti­tu­tional con­text it can at times be use­ful to ask what we, as a so­ci­ety, ex­pect of our po­lice of­fi­cers. In this case I would sug­gest that Cana­di­ans would have ex­pected Con­sta­ble Hef­fer­nan to in­ves­ti­gate a pos­si­ble im­paired driver. I would go fur­ther. I would sug­gest that Con­sta­ble Hef­fer­nan had a duty to stop Ms. Blackmore’s ve­hi­cle after hav­ing re­ceived the ear­lier re­port. Any­thing less on his part would have been a se­ri­ous dere­lic­tion of duty.

“Re­quir­ing the po­lice to wait un­til they see signs of im­proper driv­ing be­fore check­ing or stop­ping a ve­hi­cle that they have be­come sus­pi­cious of (when their sus­pi­cion has an ob­jec­tively as­cer­tain­able ba­sis) is a re­quire­ment that would sub­ject the public to un­nec­es­sary dan­ger. In th­ese types of cases it is bet­ter to err on the side of caution. It is bet­ter to find out that the of­fi­cer’s sus­pi­cion was un­war­ranted than to al­low a pos­si­ble im­paired driver to pro­ceed. It must not be for­got­ten that the po­lice are in­volved in a pre-emp­tive at­tempt ‘to catch the drink­ing driver at the road­side and not at the scene of the ac­ci­dent.’”

There are too many drunk-driv­ing ac­ci­dents and deaths in this coun­try. Some­times, it seems like an up­hill bat­tle to con­vict the driv­ers in­volved.

Plain lan­guage can be a won­der­ful thing.

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